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New CJN swears in members of 2019 election petitions tribunal

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THE controversy over the legality or otherwise of his appointment is still raging, but the newly appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Mohammed, has started carrying out official duties with the swearing-in of the members of the 2019 elections petitions tribunal.

A total of 250 tribunal members were sworn in on Saturday at the Supreme Court premises, Abuja.

Speaking at the swearing-in of the members of the election tribunal on Saturday, Mohammed noted that this is a very trying period for Nigeria’s judiciary, therefore they “must stand to protect and uphold the integrity of this arm of government”.

“I encourage you to uphold and enhance the honour and standing of the judiciary and I pray that the Almighty God will bestow upon you strength, good health and wisdom in the performance of your duties,” TheCable quoted Mohammed as saying.

Out of the total number of 15 justices of the Supreme Court, only one, Sidi Bage, attended the swearing-in ceremony.

On Friday, former CJN, Walter Onnoghen, had announced through his media aide that members of the tribunal will be sworn in on Saturday, but he was controversially suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari, who immediately swore in Mohammed, a former justice of the Sharia Court, as his replacement.

Buhari based his actions on an ex-parte order obtained from the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) which directed that Onnoghen should be suspended pending the determination of the corruption allegation against him.

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Onnoghen was accused of breaching the Code of Conduct by not declaring some of his bank accounts which, according to FG, contains huge amounts of money in both local and foreign currencies.

However, on Thursday, January 24, the Court of Appeal gave a ruling that the CCT lacks the jurisdiction to try the CJN.

Meanwhile, there have been criticisms from several foreign partners of Nigeria, including the United States of America and the United Kingdom, over the removal of the CJN.

A statement issued on Saturday by the UK High Commission in Nigeria noted that that the timing of Buhari’s action, coming so close to national elections, “gives cause for concern” as “it risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the forthcoming elections”.

Similarly, the US embassy in Nigeria also issued a statement condemning the removal of the CJN.

“We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch. That undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent, and peaceful – leading to a credible result,” the statement read in part.

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